Summit places focus on upcoming election

A range of notables from media, business, politics, advertising and popular culture gathered Monday to kick off the two-day Time Warner Summit: Politics 2008.

Panels did not generate big headlines but featured about a dozen Time and CNN staffers plus Jeff Greenfield of CBS, Frank Rich of the New York Times, Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek and others assessing how the political campaign season has been chronicled across all media.

“The presidential campaigns appreciate the media taking two days off to come here,” Time Warner chief exec Jeff Bewkes quipped in a brief opening speech. Alluding to the financial crisis, he added, “You guys are OK. Not so sure about us.”

Richard Stengel of Time, in the day’s keynote session moderated by Campbell Brown of CNN, said he wondered what the ubiquity of coverage “is doing to the electorate.” For example, “Every voter has access to all of the position papers and speeches that used to be something only the media had. And yet many political journalists seem to be conspiring to keep people less informed.”

Fellow panelist Jonathan Klein, prexy of CNN U.S., objected to the “yearning by political journalists to uncover something. We need to fix that.”

Other panels Monday focused on the world financial picture and its bearing on the political scene, political advertising in this election year, religion in politics and the question of balancing press power with political power.

One theme throughout many of the sessions was the atomization of coverage due to the rise of blogging and niche-oriented cable coverage.

Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, bemoaned the partisan stance that dominates the political landscape.

“We’ve had Gore Vidal write pieces for us, and when we go to book him, they’re not interested because he’s not partisan enough,” Carter said. “Or if they do want him, it’s that they want him to talk about Marilyn Monroe when he wants to talk about James Monroe.”

Although reps of Politico and other Web ventures argued for the empowerment aspect of online coverage, many fretted about the Net effect.

“You lose something in the nation when you’re cut into as many small pieces as America is,” Peggy Noonan said. “There’s no boring old central reality that we can all argue over.”

The confab concludes today at Time Warner’s corporate HQ.

(Mike Flaherty contributed to this report.)

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